Walk-on ferries are expected back in service between Kingston and Seattle this fall.
Port of Kingston officials plan to begin two commuter sailings to Seattle each weekday morning and two return afternoon weekday sailings to Kingston starting the week of Oct. 11, hoping the operation will at least break even by the end of 2011.
Eric Osnes, the port's ferry manager, said his agency is still working to secure a landing spot at Seattle's Colman ferry dock or some other point but expects to secure one in time to begin service in the fall.
Fares haven't been established yet, but Osnes estimated they will range from $12 to $15 per round trip for adults. Osnes said both sets of sailings would be during commuting hours.
The port plans to have coffee-sandwich-and-snack food service on the vessels but no food preparation on board other than microwaves. The agency will maintain the boats and hire and train the crew.
The service will be the second experiment on the route in five years, following the failure of a private operation in 2005. Osnes said the port wants the service to be self-sustaining but with public grants funding much of the new operation it may have a better chance of success.
"There's a lot of interest in this (in Kitsap County) and that's exciting," Osnes said. "If we could get the same level of excitement from the Seattle side this could really work."
Seattle-to-Kingston service existed during the days of Puget Sound's "mosquito fleet," a flotilla of private boats that carried people and freight around the sound before cars and trucks began dominating the transportation system.
There's been much talk about resurrecting the service and a number of Kitsap County residents have pushed for it. The port, using $3.5 million in federal transportation grants, purchased two boats that will carry up to 150 passengers each once the new service begins. It also received a $150,000 one-time operating grant from the state.
The 65-foot-long catamaran Spirit of Kingston will be the primary boat, traveling at 25-knot speeds to make the 16-mile crossing in 45 minutes. The second vessel, the 105-foot monohull Victoria Express, will be a backup boat but run at 18 knots when in use, Osnes said.
To keep the operation in the black the port hopes to carry 300 passengers to Seattle weekday mornings and an equal number back to Kingston in the evening. It also hopes to bring in some money by selling advertising on its dock and on the boats, by occasionally renting out the Victoria Express for charters and by running weekend charters to special events such as Seahawks games. Osnes said the port hopes tourists will also use the boats to travel to Kitsap County.
The port thinks it can run at lower cost by running its boats at slower speeds and limiting the number of passengers and the size of the crews. Another key difference is that federal boat-purchase grants aren't available to private operators like Aqua.
Osnes wouldn't discuss the port's cost and revenue projections but said "there are a lot of assumptions" involved in the plan. He said, and one unknown is how much of the cost can be defrayed by people riding the boats to Kingston in the morning or back to Seattle in the afternoon once the commuting crowds get to work or home.
A big "if" is getting landing rights at Pier 50 at Colman Dock, where state- and county-operated passenger ferries have also docked. Osnes said he thinks those can be obtained; other alternatives may be needed if the port can't reach agreement on Pier 50 with the state ferry system.
State ferries still call at Kingston, also, but they take passengers and vehicles to Edmonds, where foot travelers must find other ways to get to Seattle. The state has gotten out of the passenger ferry business.
If the operation does begin the port will not subsidize it beyond paying Osnes' salary and benefits. Osnes said the plan is to run the service through the end of 2011 to see if it will pay for itself. He said the port will seek operating grants. "At the end of the day it has to be self-sustaining. We'll keep it going as long as we can," Osnes said.
The private Aqua express ran a similar service in 2005 but discontinued it after about eight months. It said there weren't enough riders, it faced a big spike in fuel prices and many walk-on riders took state ferries in the morning because they could ride free in that direction on the state boats.
Aqua Express also wanted to add private foot-ferry service from Seattle to Southworth in order to meet its costs. The state ferry system and its supporters objected, however, and Aqua was not able to get an operating license to Southworth.